Every New Year is another opportunity for setting goals and resolutions for the year to come. Here are three resolutions that will be useful for anyone working on a memoir—or thinking about starting a memoir project.
- Be bold.
In your first draft, have the courage to write what wants to come through you, without worrying about how it will affect others. So many memoirs are still-born because we worry that we will hurt someone by sharing our perspective. It’s good to be careful when it comes to publishing. But when it comes to writing, you don’t want to be careful, you want to be bold—to tell the truth as you see it, as clearly and strongly as you know how.
When all is said and done, you may decide to cut or alter parts of what you’ve written to protect others. Or you might decide that your story is one that needs to be told, to help others (this is the definition of “purposeful memoir”). Few memoirists are outright malicious; when we share stories that show others in a negative light, those folks have usually done something that merits being subjected to the harsh glare of the truth.
In the initial stages of writing, don’t censor yourself. This is your story, and no one knows it better than you do. Be a truthsayer and let your voice ring out loud and clear.
- Write often.
Thinking about writing is important—a lot of the gestation of a book happens in your head. But there is no substitute for actually sitting down and getting words on the page.
It’s important to develop a regular routine for writing. If you are one of those people who can get up early and write for the first hour or two of your day, that is ideal—we are at our most creative and receptive when just coming out of the dream world.
But you can also write by voice memo dictation while sitting in traffic on the way to work. You can write in a notebook on the subway, or sitting at a café or on a park bench on your lunch break.
Maybe what will work best for you is to make a hard-and-fast date with yourself for one hour a week, which you keep as religiously as your appointment with your therapist.
Although the more often you write, the more you will get written, you are not in a race or a contest to get your memoir done. As you get further into the writing, it will develop a kind of creative centrifugal force that will pull you in and demand your attention. Let that happen in its own good time, and enjoy the process.
Just don’t let more than a week go by without writing at least some notes towards your memoir, or a memory that haunts you, or a description of a character or room from your childhood. Get it down on paper, keep those scraps together, and prepare to be surprised as the unique patchwork of your memoir begins to take shape.
- Find community.
Although writing is a solitary activity, a communion between you and the blank page, it is also a reaching out for communication. We write to be read, we share to be heard, and we crave the response of others. The crucial difference between journaling and writing memoir is that your journal is meant to stay private, while your memoir is meant to be read, if only by friends and family members.
In writing memoir we are composing our lives with the clarity of hindsight, choosing what we think is important to highlight, leaving out the boring parts and sometimes also omitting what we find embarrassing or shameful. We write memoir to tell the truth, but we choose the facets of truth that we think are worth sharing.
Sometimes you need someone who is outside of your emotional orbit to check your judgment of how much of your story needs to be told in order for you to hit home the central truth you want to communicate. We are all so close to our own stories, and in the first drafts it’s important just to get the rush of memory down on paper. But it’s also crucial to share those first drafts with others who can ask questions that will help you see what information is missing.
Sometimes the questions that arise from early readers will spur research that you wouldn’t have thought of undertaking. Who was the man Aunt Mary brought to the family Thanksgiving dinner when you were 10, who sparked such a heated argument with your father? What were the politics of that time and place, and how did this backdrop affect your own young mind?
Finding at least one trusted reader may be key to your success as a memoirist. This could be an editor or author coach, or it could be a sympathetic and trustworthy friend. Confidentiality is important, especially in sharing early drafts of a memoir-in-progress. Make it clear that you expect your exchanges to be held in confidence. And then share your work and be ready for surprises as the alchemical magic of human communication takes hold.
If you’re working on a memoir, or thinking about starting a memoir project, what are your New Year’s resolutions for yourself? What are your goals for 2018?
Now is the time, and yours is the story we’re waiting for! Make 2018 the year of your memoir!